Senate Passes Comprehensive Opioids Legislation in Near-Unanimous Vote

September 18, 2018 Updated: October 5, 2018

In a nearly unanimous vote, the Senate approved a bill to address the epidemic of opioid addiction that’s sweeping the United States.

The legislation, known as the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, authorizes some $5 billion over five years to fight the addiction crisis.

Opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, and some prescription painkillers, were reported to have played a role in more than 49,000 deaths in 2017, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bill, which was approved by a 99-1 vote on Sept. 18, earmarks $1.5 billion in grants to states for “public health-related activities, as the State determines appropriate, related to addressing the opioid abuse crisis.”

It further authorizes:

1. More than $2.9 billion for overdose data collection, analysis, and dissemination, as well as education and awareness campaigns on the “risk of abuse of prescription opioids if such drugs are not taken as prescribed.”

2. $300 million in grants to states to care for infants affected by substance abuse.

3. $125 million loan repayment program for “health professionals providing substance use disorder treatment services.”

4. $50 million in grants to establish and operate opioid recovery centers that provide “treatment and other services for individuals with a substance use disorder.”

5. $25 million for assistance to hospitals on finding painkiller alternatives to opioids.

6. $25 million in grants for “building communities of recovery,” which includes peer-support networks. An example may be a 12-step group such as Narcotics Anonymous.

7. $20 million in grants to develop training for doctors on how to administer medication like methadone that helps to overcome opioid addiction. Undergoing the training will also authorize the doctors to dispense the medication.

The bill also tasks federal agencies with a list of other measures to tackle the epidemic, including streamlining and clarifying certain regulations, collecting more data, and developing training programs and best practices.

Before going to the president for his signature, the measure needs to be reconciled with the House version of the legislation.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who sponsored the bill, said in a Sept. 17 release he is “already working to combine the Senate- and House-passed bills into an even stronger law.”

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